Take your average, run of the mill, C Major scale. Of all the bass guitar scales, it’s the most common scale that students study in the beginning. Though it’s not the most played scale, it is the most important scale for beginners to learn because it contains all of the natural notes. Because once you’ve learned the C Major scale, it’s easy to find any sharp or flat notes because you know all of the naturals. In case you’re wondering, a sharp note is one half step (in bass language: one fret) higher than a natural note, and a flat note is one fret lower. For example: G is played on the third fret of the E string, G Sharp (or G#) is played on the fourth fret, and G flat (Gb) is played on the second fret.
But there is more than one way to play a C major scale. The pitches are always the same, but there are almost infinite ways of playing them on the bass guitar.
Most electric bass guitarists learn this shape first:
It’s easy to finger. This is an in position scale shape. In fact it’s a C Major scale in second position. What do I mean by in position? In position means that each finger is glued to one fret. In this example: the middle finger always playse the third fret notes; the index finger always plays the second fret; the ring finger always plays the fourth fret; the pinky finger always plays the fifth fret. Sometimes the index or pinky fingers need to stretch an extra fret to reach notes that don’t just lie under the fingers, but we’ll deall with that when we get there.
Once you’ve got that one memorized, try playing this:
Notice how this seventh position pattern has exactly the same shape as Second Position. You only have to move the root note (if you don’t know, the root note is the note the scale is based on in this case C) to the E String. This is a big secret of learning the bass guitar! And a distinct advantage over a six string spanish-style guitar. Because the intervals between ALL of the strings is a fourth, bass guitar makes much more logical sense than your common six string, where there is a major third fault line between the G and B strings.
Anyway, sorry to digress. Another important way to learn bass guitar scales is three notes per string patterns. Check this out:
In this example the third fret and fourth fret notes are fretted by the index finger, the fifth fret notes by the middle finger, and the seventh fret notes by the pinky finger. Notice: the ring finger doesn’t fret any notes, but lay it behind the pinky to give additional support. We can move this shape from the A string to the E string like before:
The shape transposes as easily as before.
You might think I’m crazy, but there are still more logical ways to play a C Major Scale. Try this four notes per string pattern:
Now, this is where it gets a bit tricky. With four notes per string patterns, you have to decide on the fingering that works best for you. There are four options:
- Shift on the first finger. The first two notes ascending (last two descending) on each string are played with the index finger.
- Shift on the ring finger. The second and third notes on a string (ascending or descending) are played with the ring finger.
- Shift on the pinky finger. The last note on a string ascending (first note descending) are played with the pinky finger.
- Each note on a string gets a finger. In this example: on the A string C=index D=middle E=ring F=pinky G=index A=middle B=ring and high C=pinky.
It’s important to experiment with the fingering options above and decide on one that’s most comfortable for you. Personally, I prefer to shift on the index finger, but that may not be the case for you.<Like before, move the four notes per string pattern on the A string to the E string:
Last, but certainly not least, the C Major scale can be played up and down one string. In fact, any bass guitar scale can be played this way. I think it is the most often overlooked way to play scales, and the most important, because it opens up the entire fretboard. Here it is on the A string:
Ah! That feels good. For now, play it with one finger at a time. What I mean is be able to play a C Major scale up and down the A string with your index, middle, ring and pinky fingers. Try it on the E string as well:
Have you got it?
There you are: the best ways to play bass guitar scales.
- In position(s)
- Three Notes Per String
- Four Notes Per String
- Up and Down a Single String
Feel free to apply this to any other bass guitar scales you may be familiar with. Until next time, happy practicing.